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Park Church Kicks Off 170th Celebratory Year

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Park Church Kicks Off 170th Celebratory Year

On Sunday, January 3rd, 2016, at 3 p.m., the Park Church in downtown Elmira will host a free public program commemorating the founding of the congregation 170 years ago.

“On January 3, 1846, forty-one individuals left another local church to charter a new institution to be known as the First Independent Congregational Church of Elmira.   This breakaway group wanted to create a congregation that was decidedly abolitionist,” explains Church Council President, Bill Knapp.

“We are celebrating the anniversary with a special local history program that will feature portrayals of two members of the Langdon family, one of the founding families of the congregation.”

Jervis Langdon (1809 – 1870) was a businessman who moved to Elmira in 1845.   Both he and his wife, Olivia Lewis Langdon, were active abolitionists at a time when it was against the law to assist fugitive slaves.   Influenced by an experience in 1838 in Millport when they had harbored fugitive slave Frederick Douglass, both Langdons were active members of the Elmira abolitionist movement and supporters of the Underground Railroad.

Former councilman and Elmira mayor, James Hare will portray Jervis Langdon.  Local educator Sheila Reed will portray Langdon’s daughter, Olivia Louise Langdon Clemens (1845 -1904).  She will tell what it was like to grow up in the church and to become the wife of the famous author and humorist, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).

“We will use this anniversary as the opportunity to dedicate part of our historic 1876 structure,” remarks Reverend Felicity Wright.   “We have Beecher Hall, named for the much-beloved pastor, Thomas K. Beecher, who served the church and the community from 1854 to his death in 1900.   On January 3rd we will dedicate the parlors as The Langdon Parlors in recognition of the powerful legacy of four generations of Langdons.”

Jervis and his daughter Olivia represent the first two generations.  Future programs will illuminate other members of the family including General Charles Langdon, Susan Langdon Crane, Clara Langdon Clemens Gabrilowitsch, Jervis Langdon Sr., Ida Langdon and Jervis Langdon, Jr.

Also included in the January 3rd program will be music from the pipe organ, a solo of the hymn that was sung during the dedication of the sanctuary, and selections played on the historic melodeon that was a gift to Reverend Beecher from his older sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe.   High tea will be served in Beecher Hall, with piano music featuring American melodies of the mid-nineteenth century.   The public is encouraged to join the celebration. 

“Park Church is a nationally recognized landmark because it was designed as a community gathering place to serve all residents of Elmira regardless of their religious affiliation.  It is also honored by the National Park Service as an Underground Railroad historic site.  We hope that the January 3rd program and future offerings will engage 21st century neighbors to learn about the history of Elmira and its courageous citizens of the 19th and 20th centuries,” comments Rev. Wright. 

For directions and more information, go to


Felicity Wright (607-259-3700;

or Jenny Monroe (607-738-5069;

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5575 Thompson Rd. • DeWitt, NY 13214 • 315-446-3073 • Fax: 315-446-3076 •